Life After Kidney Donation: Diet & Nutrition
After kidney donation surgery, kidney donors should eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. While there are no specific dietary restrictions following donation, paying careful attention to your nutrition will help you stay as healthy as possible.
Everyone needs protein in their diet, but because protein in foods can force the kidneys to work harder, it’s best for kidney donors to consume just enough protein to meet their needs. High-protein diets are not recommended for kidney donors.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams of protein for every 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. To easily determine your recommended daily protein intake, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, or use this online protein calculator for a more exact number based on your age, sex, height, weight and activity level.
Good sources of protein include beef, chicken, turkey, eggs and soy products such as tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk. Plant-based proteins including dried beans, lentils, and unsalted nuts and seeds are gentler on your kidneys. It’s best to avoid high-fat cuts of meat and meats that are high in salt or preservatives, such as ham, bacon, sausage, bologna, salami and hot dogs.
To see a list of protein contents for a wide range of foods, see this chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Staying hydrated helps your kidney function properly and will decrease your risk of developing kidney stones, which are painful and can cause kidney damage.
To stay hydrated, drink mostly water or clear liquids (fruit juice with no pulp, tea, black coffee and flavored clear drinks like Gatorade or vitamin water) throughout the day. The general rule is to aim for eight 8-ounce cups a day, but for a more specific guideline based on your sex, weight and eating habits, use this hydration calculator.
Limit caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which can cause dehydration, and cola-type soft drinks, which have been linked to kidney stone formation.
Remember to increase fluid intake during exercise or hot weather, when sweating can increase fluid loss.
Monitor yourself for signs of dehydration, which can include thirst, dry cough, fatigue, light-headedness and dark-colored urine.
Salt & Blood Pressure
It’s important to keep your blood pressure under control after kidney donation, and one way to do that is to limit your salt intake.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume no more 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is equal to about 1 teaspoon of table salt. For kidney donors, some sources recommend an even lower maximum of 2,000 milligrams.
To limit your salt intake, avoid adding excess salt when cooking (try salt-free spices and seasonings, vinegar or citrus for flavoring instead) and limit your consumption of salty foods and snacks such as salted nuts, potato chips and pickled foods.
Choose fresh foods when possible and opt for no-salt or reduced-salt options for foods such as soup, broth, bouillon, soy sauce, cheese and processed or frozen foods.
Vitamins, Herbs, Supplements & Medications
It might be a good idea to take a daily multivitamin after kidney donation surgery, but be careful about specific supplements. Always check with your primary care provider before using any vitamin or mineral supplements that provide more than 100% of the DRI (daily recommended intake).
Herbs generally used in tea or cooking are usually fine to consume. On the other hand, herbs contained in pills, capsules, infusions, tinctures or unusual herbal teas can be problematic.
The following herbs are among those known or thought to be dangerous to kidney health:
- Chinese herbs (have been linked with kidney and liver failure)
- Ephedra (identified in some cases of kidney failure)
- DHEA (may be harmful to kidney tissue)
- Juniper (may cause kidney problems)
- Licorice (may cause kidney damage)
NSAIDs—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin and naproxen (Aleve) that are typically taken to treat pain—can be problematic if taken in higher than recommended doses. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the preferred pain reliever to use.
Contact your transplant pharmacist if you have specific questions regarding medications or supplements.